The Maryland General Assembly (MGA) is looking to pass legislation in 2022 to legalize cannabis.
Black people have been hit the hardest by the war on drugs, which includes the prohibition of cannabis. We have been subject to mass incarceration and the denigration of our communities. As a result, we need a policy that explicitly repairs the harm that has been done to Black people as a result of the war on drugs.
There are three areas of policy that need to be addressed: criminal justice, reinvestment, and Black business participation. Below are the specific policies that the MGA needs to address in order to claim that their cannabis legalization agenda constitutes racial justice.
Decriminalize the possession and distribution of cannabis. Without true decriminalization, excessive cannabis-related arrests and interactions with law enforcement among Black people will perpetuate the damage done to Black people by mass incarceration. Additionally, the use of cannabis prohibition as a public safety strategy is ineffective. It is proven by the low clearance rates in places like Baltimore City and Prince George’s County on homicides, while arrest rates for cannabis-related arrests remain high.
Vacate/expunge criminal records related to cannabis. Those who have criminal records as a result of cannabis prohibition should not have to experience the stigma of having a criminal record or the exposure to being sucked into the criminal justice system that is caused by mass incarceration.
Allow people who have convictions related to cannabis-related charges to have reconsideration hearings. People whose convictions were due to the cannabis prohibition should have the opportunity to have their convictions and sentences revisited and potentially reduced or eliminated.
A significant portion of the tax revenues from the cannabis industry should be allocated to the jurisdictions most directly impacted by the war on drugs. A jurisdiction should get a percentage of the revenues that are based on its proportion of the statewide cannabis-related arrest over the past 20 years. Each local governing body (city or county council) should be required to pass a law that determines how those resources are spent in that jurisdiction to allow the community to impact where those dollars go. There should be guardrails that would guide how those resources are allocated, which would include not allocating resources to law enforcement and not supplanting existing government programs and services.
Black Business participation
Set aside 1/3 of the number of licenses for Black businesses. Unfortunately, there are legal constraints for explicitly advocating race-based policies. A potential way around this is to set aside a certain number of licenses for companies majority-owned by an individual who is a part of a group that has been disproportionately negatively impacted by cannabis prohibition. The numbers are so clear that Black people are disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs that this would be composed mostly of Black companies.
Incentivize companies to do business with minority enterprises in the application for a license. This will create an incentive for white-owned companies to do business with black-owned enterprises in order to be in a better position to obtain a license.
Invest in and expand existing Small, Minority, and Women Business funds. Maryland should provide additional resources, access to capital, and technical assistance for smaller Black entrepreneurs to access the industry.
Any legislation regarding cannabis legalization that passes, but does not have these policies attached to it, would be another example of the failure of Democratic Party leadership to deliver for its most loyal base, Black people.